Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Virtual Worlds - A far-sighted essay from the dawn of history

"It is a technology that will allow us to make more and better art; potentially it is a technology that will dissolve the boundaries between us and allow us to see the contents of each others minds. There is also the possibility of improves methods of communication, states of near telepathy between participating human beings, can be coaxed out of imaginative use of technology. because of what VR is intrinsically, there are several ways in whcih it could become the basis of an entirely new form of communication between people."

In 1990, Terence McKenna, the visionary theoretician and dreamer, wrote this as part of an article called "Virtual Reality and Electronic Highs (Or On Becoming Virtual Octopi)". I just re-read it last night and it clicked. When I read Mckenna the first time around, I had no experience of virtual worlds and the impact of what he says here was lost on me.

When he wrote this, McKenna had just taken part in a demonstration in San Francicso of a VR environment that, even by the standards of Second Life, was very primitive. But of all his wild forecasts for the future of humanity... this one seems to be panning out exactly as he saw it would.

"I had the eerie feeling that this might be what it would have been like to stop by the Wright brothers' bicycle shop to shoot the breeze with Wilbur and Orville about the latest ideas concerning lift ratios with airfoils.. These folks are on to something. They know it and I will wager that soon the whole world will know it. We are on the brink of another leap in evolution, folks."

McKenna had some pretty far-out ideas, but in this, perhaps he hit the nail right on the head and saw the true transformational potential in virtual worlds that, even now, many involved in them cannot.

For me, what McKenna pinpoints here is what makes Second Life such a magical realm. It helps me understand why this virtual world of shopping malls, nightclubs and ridiculous looking people is magic to me. I struggle to explain to people I know who try it and don't get it. They are like, "So what? What's the point?"

"Did you talk to anyone?" I'll say, grasping at the feeling that communication with others is the essence of the magic, but I give up in the end...

It's not the builds that are magic... the recreations of ancient temples, modern cities and so on.... that's is so not it. many of them are great and that's fine but it not the magic.... this is more than digital lego. McKenna saw this, and now I can't believe only I skim-read this essay of his in the early 90s.

McKenna says: "In trying to imagine the futures onto which these doors open, let us not forget that culture and language were the first virtual realities. A child is born into a world of unspeakable wonder. each part of the world is seen to glow with animate mystery and the beckoning light of the unknown. But quickly our parents and siblings provide us with words. At first these are nouns; that shimmering pattern of iridescence and sound is a "bird", that cool, silky, undulating surface is "water". As young children, we respond to our cultural programming and quickly replace mysterious things and feelings with culturally validated and familiar words....
... As we learn our lines and the blocking that goes with them, we move out of the inchoate realm of the preverbal child and into the realm of the first virtual reality, the VR of culture. many of us never realise that this domain is virtual, and instead we imagine we are discovering the true nature of the real world."

Discuss :)

Friday, 13 July 2007

blogging from the road.

I've hired a car and driver. Flight to Dhaka cancelled. We've been on the road nearly 2 hours. I have to check in in 7 hours time. Should be ok. Flagging now, i've worked or travelled at least 12 hours a day for the last 12 days solid. I'm running out of energy in this 40 degree heat and 90% humidity.

Sent using a Sony Ericsson mobile phone

Thursday, 12 July 2007

Leaving Kathmandu

Said goodbye, hugged Ganga and jumped in a taxi at 1pm to check in at 2. Perfect timing.

"That's hand luggage? Too big." Says a miserable man at the desk. I look surprised.

"Oh really? I always take it on as hand luggage."

"You must check in."

"OK", I smile.

I start pulling the security seal off it.

"But I have to take my camera out... and my video camera... and my laptop..." I'm really making a big deal of trying to get the strap off to open it.

"OK, take it through." He gives up and waves me through.

The usual thorough hand luggage search on leaving KTM failed to find my stash. Phew. But then the army guy says: "Photograph?"

"Yes", all smiles.

"You are photograph businessman?" He's not smiling. Mmmmm mine was supposed to be an infectious one.

"Oh no! No... tourist!" I laugh.

Going to prison, Tamghas style

You watch Midnight Express and vow to be really careful of foreign prisions so I approached the idea with some trepidation when RB suggested I go to Tamghas prison to buy some nice stuff to take home. But It sounded interesting so we strolled through the gate and spoke to the guard.

"Yeah, we just want to buy some stuff", he jumped up and brought us to the bars of the main door.

He gets a cut of whatever the prisoners make in there and in turn helps them get the materials inside.

I look through the bars and see smiling prisoners, men and women together at weaving looms and carpentry benches working away. One particularly rough looking guy come up to the gates looking like he's going to grab one of us as a hostage... then he pulls out some really nice woven rugs and offers then through the bars for us to take a look.

very trusting.... but I suppose the guard will stop us running off with the goods and we'd end up inside with him for theft... which would be a bad idea. Interesting court case though, shoplifting from a prison. I buy something, and haggle the price down - he's not going anywhere - it's beautifully woven.

language problems and the god of fig tree

"Which god is this temple for?" I asked Asok.

"Manakamana, the god of big tree"

"Big tree?" I said.

"Oh thats nice." said Rob B, old hippy.

"No, no, fig tree." replied Asok.

"Fig trees?' I said.

"No'" Asok laughed, "Vic-tory, Manakamana is god of victory".

Snapshots of travel day

It's 5.30pm and we are at last averaging more than 5km/h as we climb out of the kathmandu valley. We set off an hour ago. In my mouth is a hard cube of churpi. Smoked Yak cheese with the texture of plastic. I've been told it will melt. It is disintegrating very slowly. It doesn't taste of much except the slight smokiness... it's not especially cheesy. The road is a long slow snake of traffic winding upwards, the pollution and dust is terrible but the heat means having the windows open.

With us is Kamela, a girl with an amazing singing voice who lost both arms and a leg when she flew a kite into a powerline. She has been fitted with prosthetic arms and a leg. Her sister Sangeeta is with us too. They are really excited to be travelling, as neither has been out of Kathmandu before.

We're going along a bit faster now, about 20km/h overtaking highly decorated loorries on hairpin bends. My bum is numb, it's getting dark and I have a cube of churpi in each cheek. Sangeeta bought it in the market and thinks it's funny that I appear to like it, so she keeps offering it to me.

We stop at a roadside shack. Kamela and her sister stay in the van despite my trying to tempt them out. Asoka doesn't seem bothered.

"Do you like fish?" says Asoka.

We sit down and to my great relief he orders three bottles of beer. Carlsberg, brewed in Kathmandu. A plate of fried fish arrives, heads, bones and all, like whitebait but kind of goldfish sized.

"How do you eat these?" I said stupidly.

"I'll teach you..."

Asoka very slowly picked up a fish between his fingers and very deliberately put the head in his mouth, bit it off and chewed it. Then he started laughing.

It was silly question.

The fish were nice enough but even Asoka and Praladh left the one with the really big eyes staring up at us. Prawns were good, eaten in the same style, all shell and head.

I think Kamela is embarrassed to come out, she looks normal because of the prosthetics but of course she can't use the rubbery fingers to eat. I wish there is something I could do.

Six and a half hours after leaving KTM... Another roadside shack.

"We no time for dinner at hotel when we get to Butwal," says Asoka.

We sit down again: me Praladh, Asoka and Sangeeta... again Kamela stays in the van. She hasn't taken a piss since 4pm either, I can see it must be awkward.

We sit down to eat and plates of food arrive: dhal, rice, vegetable curry, green vegetable, and a dish of lumps of something meaty.

I'm offered a spoon but try eating like everyone else, with my hand. My technique causes much laughter. I tend to tilt my head back and drop the food in, eating like a baby bird, they say.

I try a lump of meat. it's liver. It's full of gristle too. I pick another bit attached to bone... instantly the texture feels wrong, rubbery, spongy, like lung or something. I discreetly spit it out.

12.00am we speed past Lumbini, birthplace of Gautama Buddha. asok and the driver are sneezing and coughing up lumps of something they spit out the window.

Streets are quiet.

Arrive at the kandala Hotel, Butwal. On the floor of the lobby a man is sleeping next to some burning incense. It's basic. At first it looks like I will be sharing with Asok as there are not enough rooms... luckily he goes off to find another hotel. I like him and everything but I really need my own time here. I open the door to the bathroom and get hit with the stench of sewage. I have a cold shower, roll up a little one and go to sleep.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007


Didn't feel too awake this morning thanks to the 22 hours travel time from the UK to Kathmandu.

After washing down a breakfast of parathas and sambal with loads of juice and coffee, I still didn't feel too special. Jetlag maybe, but I don't usually suffer from it at all.

The guest relations manager started giving me the spanish inquisition as I waited in the lobby, she was asking too many questions so I lied and told her I was on holiday, like my visa says, meeting friends in Nepal. Then going on to Bangladesh with my big tripod to do some work.

"what are you going to do while you're here?"

"Oh y'know... see people."

"What? You mean casually?" She sounded surprised that a sex tourist would be so honest. I blushed when I realised what she thought I'd meant.

"No, no... see people, people I already know, who live in Kathmandu."

S showed up and off we went to his office which is also the home he shares with extended family. His father is 96 and the mother looks 30 years younger but is 89. Nice people.

The garden is filled with reflective solar cookers of different designs and briquette making equipment, presses and drying racks.

S is lovely and shows me around, explaining his mission to make Nepalese people self sufficient in energy and not dependent on LPG and kerosene.

One of the solar cookers has a clear lid and some sweaty looking chicken kebabs in it (it's not very sunny). When S explains that's lunch, I start to work out if I'll still be sick for the 10 hour road trip on Saturday. I'm sure it's fine and I'm being old fashioned but I'm not sure about eating chicken that's never been near a flame...

He fires up a briquette stove, it turns out the chicken was just pre cooking in the solar box, my stomach relaxes as the chicken lands in hot oil and sizzles.

It's delicious.

I was warned this guy wanted to show me a powerpoint thing and the dreaded moment came after lunch. He left the room and I made a call to the managing agents of my block of flats where the tenants have been without gas for three days. It crosses my mind to offer to bring them back a stove next time the girl calls... on second thoughts... no.

A taxi took us around KTM to film rubbish dumped at the side of the road. The highlight was a big pile of cow legs by the river. No hassle from the authorities. As S said, the politicians are too busy with politics to do anything else, I reassured him it was the same elsewhere too. Thank God.

Back at the hotel to do some more phone calls about the flat... it only happens when I'm away. Last time it was a blocked toilet and I was under a mosquito net in a hut somewhere in Sri Lanka.

I'm not a worrier... but since a friend caught cerebral malaria on one of these trips and ended up nearly dying in the London Hospital for Tropical Medicine, I've been careful to take anti-malaria tablets. I thought I had loads left, so I didn't bother going to see the travel clinic this time. I have about 8 one a day tablets and a 14 day trip. I need a strategy.

I could wait to see if I get malaria then blitz it with 4 pills a day for two days, but instead I think I'll do a risk assessment as I go and take them when I'll need them most. It's OK in the city, I'm sure. But tomorrow we're driving out of town to a leper colony so I just know I'm going to feel itchy on the way back.

Monday, 2 July 2007

Security Alerts

I arrived early at an airport surrounded by hastily erected concrete blocks. Thye always do this, shut the stable door after the horse is long gone.

I faced my usual problem, that my one piece of hand luggage - the camera bag - is too big. They started getting strict recently and I've even been made to try to fit it in the size measurer. It never quite fits and I always have to smile a lot.

Since there was an attempted suicide bombing of an airport yesterday, and everyone is really following rules like it's going to save them... I will have to do a lot of smiling today before i walk on board with my laptop and camera gear.

A woman with too much makeup from Qatar Airlines worked her way down the queue giving out the all important "cabin baggage" tags.

"That looks heavy", she said, "If it's more than 7 kg then you'll have to check it in."

I smiled at her.

"But you don't have much other luggage... Hmmmm... when you get to the counter, see how much it all weighs." She wasn't going to make the decision.

I practised smiling at a few random people as I waited. Airline people don't get many smiles. Especially on days like this. I'm on a roll, the woman taxi driver refused to take any money from me this afternoon too, because I was "nice". I never had that happen before.

Soon a guy from the airline comes up and ushers me over to the first class check in. Sadly not an upgrade, but a queue jump, at least. Obviously, the first class check in guy didn't even look at my hand luggage except to see where to put the tag :)

Upstairs, the impact of extra security is clear. It takes an hour to get through passport control. They are x-raying shoes and belts, checking laptops and limiting liquids.

I queued at the forex counter to buy dollars and a guy pushed in.... just came and stood in front of me. He looked like an arrogant fucker too, dressed like a banker on holiday. Fat arse squeezed into some chinos and a pair of loafers that have only ever seen tarmac or marble. Open necked short sleeved shirt with a button down collar. Of course.

When the people in front of him finished, I just stepped in front of him and took my rightful place at the counter.

"Hi", I smiled at the woman.

He was too shocked to say anything, but could hardly complain.

I bought 400 USD, I know I'll need at least 300 to hire a 4x4 in Nepal, I now have a 10 hour drive from Kathmandu to this Tamghas/Gulmi place, rather than the internal flight. I'm not sure which is statistically safer, but I'm guessing it's the plane, probably not such fun though. If I pay for the hotels with my card, that should be OK. I don't want any USD left over.

Within minutes, I had food and I'd logged right into the middle of a muddy field on the last day of Secondfest.

I waited till the screen said "boarding" before getting up to go, but it was lying. Another security alert meant one of the terminals was evacuated, apparently, and the crew were unable to get through.

There are some honeymooners, I suppose because it's a Sunday in June, They have carefully thought out their coordinated "traveller" outfits. And have shiny new rings on their fingers.

Take off was an hour late. It's really hot in the plane, unusually. Now it's 1.45am UK time and we're over Iraq. I should sleep the old guy next to me has had two cans of Heineken and is singing along to Hotel California. Next stop Doha, I should make the connecting flight, with a bit of luck.

Sunday, 1 July 2007

On the Road

This mad dash to the airport via the office to pick up camera gear is becoming a horrible habit. I write this on a sleepy Sunday train into central London. Two hours ago I left a restaurant on the south coast before everyone else had even started eating to drive flat out down the motorway. I made it home in 56 minutes - not bad considering the driving conditions. My speed bought me nearly half an hour at home before the taxi arrived to take me to the station. I had to pack the last bits of stuff and double check documents.
A taxi to the airport is impossible as last weeks botched terrorist attacks have prompted the usual chaos. No cars allowed to drop off or pick up at the airport. I'm trying to get there early as I remember last year's chaotic scenes after the exploding water/toothpaste/suncream/hairgel scare. I should have about half an hour in the office to repack the carry on bag with the camera, laptop and the absolute essentials. At least two of my flights are on those little planes that will no way take the bag in the overhead locker, so I'll just have to try to wing it.

Monday, 25 June 2007

13.36 from RL to SL

The 13.36 train from a town in Kent to Victoria is the unlikely vehicle taking me from one world to another. I'm going from my mum's art exhibition to SLUK 07 organised by Rivers Run Red.

I'm still not used to blurring the line and here I am on a real train, on my way to meet people I usually only deal with in Second Life.

In my hands are some photos that arrived this morning. Glossy prints on photographic paper of people and places that I have no other physical record of.

In one picture I'm sitting on the ground next to a friend outside a modern house. There are palm trees in the distance and a cluster of reeds on the foreground. We're looking at each other, talking.

Many of my friends in Second life would recognise the place straight away.

Others are portraits of avatars that are important to me, or places with special meaning. One is a self portrait.

The pictures are a snapshot of my second life. They would mean nothing even to my closest real life friends and family.

They were an experiment, partly to see how the digital screenshots I've been taking for over a year look on photographic paper, but mainly I was interested in how it would feel to hold these things in my hands.

I was surprised at the strength of feeling they evoked. The weirdest thing was that even though I've had pictures like this on my computer for over a year, they've always been separated out from my real life by their digital form.

When the computer was off or I'm not sitting at it, the virtual world fades fast in the absence of physical reminders.

Now I had these pictures in my hand in my hand.It felt like these images had crossed a great distance, like images from the surface of Mars. It felt like a line had been crossed.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Real Life

6.42. I'm on a train on the way in. My eyelids feel like they've been open way too long in the last few days. Screen fatigue.

Yesterday we delivered most of our material: 18 five-minute films plus 18 two- minute films and an 8 minute film for school kids about global warming.

The scripts long ago lost their meaning, pulled around by committee. People who work in broadcast often assume that making films outside that world is easier. Give me someone who knows the medium and knows what they want any day instead of these idiots.

The woman I've been working for throughout this is based a long way away. That would normally be a good thing. Every time we need an edit approved, we just upload it and send a link by email, right?

The phone rings straight away....

"Rob?", she whispers with a trace of panic, like something is my fault.

"I'm having problems downloading this thing - it's not working?"

"Well, what's it doing?"

"This thing popped up.... it says transferring data or something... 63 megabytes...."

"That's what it's supposed to do. It is downloading it."

"How will I watch it?"

She is head of a fucking media organisation in the 21st century.

"Click on it, when it's finished." This is so lame.

"Oh no, the other phone's going! Bye!"

Monday, 18 June 2007

Technosexual Geeks Run Wild

"the digital age has created a technosexual generation hooked on no-strings casual sex."

I read this in a lamestream Sunday magazine article at the weekend.

Is there a generation that hasn't been hooked on casual sex, "technosexual" or not? It was a strapline dressed up as social analysis for Observer readers. To be fair to the writer, who probably had nothing to do with the headline, her article never really fulfils the promise of this lurid suggestion. I'm sure people do use the internet to arrange causal liasons (duh! and erm... learn how to make bombs and stuff). That's not really news.

What is interesting to me is that, thanks to the technology, there might be a development in the opposite direction... The development of the postal service allowed, for the first time, people to have long distance relationships. Intense relationships of passion built on words and dreams. There is a romance in the language of love letters that you don't find in sms. With email and the death of distance, and more especially the development of avatars and virtual worlds that facilitate an oddly real physical closeness, could we see a a return of the victorian-style long and (relatively) chaste courtship?

" much can you truly learn about a person from a blog? A lot of the information on Facebook is superficial and guarded. The pictures tend to be either improbably flattering or deliberately obscured - along with the rest of what's posted, they represent a highly manipulated reality."

The fact that our digital lives are largely anonymous and represent a "manipulated reality" is one thing, but then drinking six pints of lager before stumbling home with someone from the pub is manipulating reality too. I've asked around in Second Life, and I've of course, I've found people who've had real-life casual sex with people they've met as avatars. But there are even more who feel they are exploring a different kind of relationship through this medium. And it's often not as casual as you might expect.

I know of people who've left their real lives to pursue a dream born in a digital world... happy endings? I don't know yet.

There is anonymity online, but it provides a security that perhaps allows people to open up quicker and be more direct with strangers than is often the case in real life situations.

Time is the new Space

This blog is about where real and virtual lives meet and how they affect each other. Its been mostly focused on virtual life, so far.

In recent days (weeks?) work has exploded into the anticipated badly managed shitstorm. With me in the role of chief cleaner. I haven't had much time to snatch from work to carry on with real life let alone to explore the virtual... it feels like going from having two lives to limping along with less than half of each.

The whole process is damaging, long hours sitting down at a desk, drinking too much coffee.

Before the web 2.0 thing really took off, Frances Cairncross wrote a book called The Death of Distance. A good friend of mine says "time is the space between us". They are both right.

I believe time will be a much harder nut for the scientists to crack than distance was, but I'll be first to sign up for "MyTime" when it launches.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Second Life Dreams

I have never had an especially hard head... I can get easily absorbed in alternate realities. Things that some people barely notice can be very real for me. Lucid dreams, visualizations... and that kind of thing. I need a tiny fraction of the dose of some of my friends when it comes to psychedelic drugs, I've had psychedelic expriences on nothing at all. That's probably why I get a lot out of SL and some of my RL friends don't. My head seems to meet the technology at least half way, and pulls powerful things (to me, at least) out of it.

I've been living with my avatar now for a year and a half and one of the clearest effects I've noticed has been in my dreams. Its often said it's a dream-like world. Well it is and it isn't, but I clearly remember my first SL influenced dream. It didn't look like SL but it had the same feeling of wonder and community.

Since then, dreams involving SL friends have become at least as regular as those with RL friends. A result of spending time where and forming emotional bonds I suppose, but these drerams aren't populated by avatars.

I just know who the people are with that unquestionable knowledge you get in dreams. actual appearance is fluid, like any detail if you try to fix on it in a dream, but each one is a solid presence and I know for sure who they are in my dream (unlike SL). The dreams don't take place in the same places as my RL dreams, which are often set in familiar but distorted RL environments.

The SL dreams happen in a world that's not quite like the real one real and yet it's not like SL either.

I find it interesting that I don't ever dream that I'm sitting at a computer, logged into SL. I'm always totally in-world, it shows how immersive an environment it is, maybe, that the interface totally disappears when I dream of it. Experiences in SL get filed by the brain as part of my life just as normal RL incidents do. Another interesting point... I've had dreams with different friends from SL in them but never a mixed reality dream... so there is a clear separation somewhere in there, even though parts of my life blur the line.

I think its like anything that stretches your experience I, it informs your dreams, gives you new ways of thinking and feeling which are manifested in dreams. In that respect, it's like an hallucinogenic drug. It opens you up to other ways of being and thinking and once that's done, you can't go back.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Exile - but not for long

It's right that the rhythms of Real Life dictate those of our Second Lives. Though there's a temptation to do it the other way around, I'm sure it's not quite healthy. Maybe it's only the same as cutting short a night out to make a phone call. But the immersive magic of SL means is doesn't compare very well to other forms of communication. You need to make time for it and it rewards you, but that time has to fit in around the demands of life itself. I think of SL and my friends there a lot when I'm not online. It made me think that the best way to make a film about Second Life would actually be not to shoot much in SL at all. Just a person in RL with a foot in another world.

Part conference call, part opium dream, SL doesn't fit neatly into a category.

Why am I thinking like this? I moved house in RL and that meant not just three days without contact with friends who I usually see almost every day, but three days without any internet access, and another three weeks before it's working at home - except if I contort myself and my laptop in one corner of one room and pray for the gods of unsecured networks to smile on me. Which they tend to :))

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Playing with a new effect

OK 12 hours and then some in the edit suite today... surely I could find a few minutes of render time for a new effect! Oh yes.
It might be in the video bar.... somewhere here >
But the quality is messed up... try this:

Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Tea and biscuits at nephie's place

Neph is the perfect housewife, she loves her little cottage with the white fence, roses around the door... and she is so fussy about tablecloths.... oh sorry... did I get the wrong Neph. This one is cool.

Monday, 21 May 2007

Once more, with feeling...

It was a ridiculous sight - the generic avatars jumping on each other using crude animations approximating sex.

"Hahaha! It looks so stupid! I could never be jealous if my husband was doing this!" Said the woman sitting next to me.

She was director I was working with on a short SL movie. She was new to virtual worlds and this is as far as many people get.

Part of the movie meant our hero (who we see in Real Life and in SL) meets a girl avatar (we never see her in RL) in second life and falls for her. They had met already in SL a few times before shooting began and got on quite well. I know he was intrigued about who she really was.

We laughed about the embrace between them between that would come at the end of our film.

But when it came to it and they embraced, a weird thing happened, the guy in RL sitting at a laptop across from me, really felt something, it was obvious. I was fliming it in SL of course, and it was an uncomfortable moment.

I wasn't sure what to expect when these two people touched virtually. But it proved to me that this is something that others can feel too.

I have been really shaken by how much we can feel through this medium. I have felt the touch on my skin of fingers a thousand kilometres away, I've had the oddest synchronisations. The kind that happen rarely in RL seem more frequent here. I can't explain that. Except that it means something.

This wasn't what I was expecting from a world coded in cold ones and zeroes, from the concept, it didn't seem like a place where the human spirit should, or could, flourish.

But I came and explored and I have stayed. I've seen such incredible creativity here and felt the love of people who share only imagination and a vision. It's not for everyon and maybe even most of the residents don't fully realise the impact of this technology on humans.

I think it's about play in it's purest form. It's making mud pies in the garden. It's dressing up. It's making camps. It's exploring. It's lego. It's for grownups who won't let go of the eyes and imagination of their childhood.

In SL there's no goal, so there's a vacuum and the most amazing stuff pops out of people to fill it.

According to Marshall McLuhan - the visionary who came up with the term "global village" - we should look at technologies that extend us and ask, what do they extend? The telephone extends our voice, TV extends our vision... what do virtual worlds extend, I wonder? The self? (is there such a thing?) I know it's some big part of us. I feel it.

He also says we should not forget that when something is extended, something else is lost. From my experience, it's time. Not lost perhaps, but converted from potential to memories. I have some very precious ones from Second Life, from laughing so much that my stomach hurts and exploring this new world with some of the funniest, smartest and most thoughtful people I've never met.